How Ross Poldark was a victim of Cornwall’s changing industrial landscape

This post originally appeared on The Conversation. The article was written by Joseph Crawford, Lecturer in English. 

In July 2016, the BBC announced the commissioning of a third season of costume drama Poldark, months before the second series was even due to be broadcast. This represents an impressive vote of confidence in the series, especially as season two will apparently not be repeating the famous “topless scything” scene which won the National Television Awards’ prize for TV Moment of the Year.

Go West. BBC

Go West. BBC

The real pivotal moment depicted by Poldark, however, is one of historical change in south-west England. In the mid-18th century, Cornwall and Devon were major commercial and industrial centres. Cornwall’s tin and copper mines were some of the largest and most sophisticated in Europe, while the profits from the Cornwall and Devonshire wool trade helped make Exeter one of the biggest and richest cities in England.

By the mid-19th century however, much had changed. The rise of the mechanised cloth industry in England’s North and Midlands sent the south-western wool trade into serious decline. And while Cornwall’s mining industry survived well into the 20th century, it experienced repeated crises from the 1770s onwards. This was primarily due to newly discovered tin and copper mines elsewhere in the world, leading to the large-scale emigration of Cornish miners to countries such as Mexico, Australia and Brazil.

The era depicted in Poldark shows the region on the very tipping-point of this transition. Ross Poldark’s struggles to keep his mine open and profitable are symptomatic of the economic difficulties experienced by the region as a whole during the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

As south-western towns lost their traditional role as centres of trade and industry, their focus shifted increasingly to tourism. This was especially true during the long years of the Napoleonic Wars which form the backdrop to the later Poldark novels. Cut off by war from their favoured resorts in France and Italy, a generation of English tourists began taking holidays in Devon and Cornwall instead.

By the late 18th century, writers in Devon were praising their native county for its natural beauty and its ancient history, rather than for the wealth and industry of which their parents and grandparents had been so proud. By the mid-19th century, the same was increasingly true of Cornwall.

This economic shift led, in turn, to the development of the Victorian mythology of the “romantic South-West”, still beloved of local tourist boards today.

This mythology is built upon a version of the region’s history which emphasises its remote and wild character, playing on associations with Merlin and King Arthur, druids and witches, smugglers and wreckers and pirates.

Like most costume dramas, Poldark’s primary concern is with the travails of cross-class romance. But it is also a narrative about de-industrialisation, and about the struggle of local businesses to remain competitive and economically viable within an increasingly globalised economy – a story which has some resonance in early 21st-century Britain.

The poverty of the Cornish miners with whom Ross Poldark identifies is not simply the result of gratuitous oppression. Instead they are the victims of a new economic order which has little interest in preserving local industry for its own sake.

Wild West

The show has certainly not been shy about making lavish use of the beauty of its Cornish setting, and has already triggered something of a tourism boom, with visitors flocking to the region to see for themselves the moors, cliffs, and beaches which Poldark employs to such dramatic visual effect.

But it also depicts the historical struggles of the region’s inhabitants to preserve the South West as something more than just a pretty place for other people to visit on holiday. In this sense, it is rather symbolic that season one of Poldark ends with Ross being falsely accused of wrecking. The legend of the Cornish wreckers, which reached its definitive form in Du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn, is founded on extremely slender historical evidence, but it persists because it fits in so neatly with the Victorian mythology of the South West in general, and Cornwall in particular: a mythology which viewed it as a lawless and desperate land, filled with crime and adventure, and remote from all true civilisation.

In Poldark, the looting of the wrecked vessel is motivated by hunger and poverty, which have in turn been caused by the economic depression besetting the region. But after spending the whole season struggling against Cornwall’s industrial decline, Ross finds himself in danger of being absorbed into a new kind of narrative about the South West – one which will have no place for men like him, except as picturesque savages.

Of course, in this respect, Poldark rather wants to both have its grain and (shirtlessly) reap it, too. Ross Poldark and Demelza appeal to their audience precisely because they embody the kind of romantic wildness which, since the Victorian era, has been the stock-in-trade of the south-western tourist industry.

They are passionate, free-spirited, and dismissive of class boundaries and social conventions: hardly the kind of people that the self-consciously respectable merchants and industrialists of the 18th-century South West would have wanted as their representatives or champions. But by setting its story of class antagonism against the backdrop of this crucial turning-point in the history of the South West, Poldark does serve as a reminder that the quietness of the region, which has proven so attractive to generations of tourists, is not the natural state of a land untouched by commerce or industry. It is the silence which follows their enforced departure.

Experimental Archaeology: Neanderthal Spear Technology

PhD student Alice La Porta is undertaking archaeological experiments on the nature Neanderthal spear use this summer as part of her PhD project on Middle Palaeolithic stone tool projectile technology. Read all about her research below!

Did Neanderthal use stone-tipped wooden spears as throwing hunting weapons?

Fig 1 Alice and friends

Alice la Porta during the first set of experiments (summer 2015), at Aöza Open-air Museum during the “Mesolithic Living” project.

In Europe, a small number of wooden spears have been found in archaeological contexts from the Lower and Middle Palaeolithic (c. 1,200,000-40,000 years ago), such as at Schöningen, Clacton and Lehringen. The first suggestion that such spears had stone tips comes in the European Middle Palaeolithic, the time of the Neanderthals, in the form of distinctive stone points, also called Levallois or Mousterian points. But how can we be certain that these stone points were used by Neanderthals as spear-heads for their wooden spears? Analysing the utilization wear and the impact fractures present on the surfaces of modern, experimentally-used spear-tips and archaeological stone points, using optical and digital microscopes, is one approach to inferring the prehistoric uses of these tools.

A big question in any discussion of Middle Palaeolithic spears is…how were Neanderthals using their stone-tipped wooden spears? Where Neanderthals throwing their spears or were they using them as close-range thrusting weapons? It has previously been argued that, while Neanderthal populations may have used stone-tipped wooden spears, these were rudimentary thrusting weapons. However the differences between throwing and thrusting spear delivery systems are still poorly understood for the earlier Palaeolithic, both in terms of spear performance and concerning the traces left behind on the spear tips. This partly reflects the limited range of experiments which had, until recently, been undertaken.

Fig 2 spear throw

First set of experiments (summer 2015), at Aöza Open-air Museum during the “Mesolithic Living” project.

Building on previous archaeological experiments, and drawing on ethnographic observations, I am conducting a series of weaponry experiments within my PhD research project. The experiments aim to test the performances of replica Middle Palaeolithic stone-tipped wooden spears, and explore the differences in the resulting wear and breakage patterns that can be seen on the thrown and thrusted spears.

The experiments  have  been  funded  by  the  UK’s  South  West  and  Wales  Doctoral  Training Partnership (SWW DTP), the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), and the University of Exeter. They are taking place at Aöza Open-air Museum “Steinzeitpark Dithmarschen” (Albersdorf, Germany) within the OpenArch/EXARC partnership. The support of all of these organisations is very gratefully acknowledged.

Author’s Bio:

Alice La Porta is a second year PhD student in the Archaeology department studying stone tools in the Middle Palaeolithic. She is funded by the AHRC South West and Wales Doctoral Training Partnership under the supervision of Linda Hurcombe and Rob Hosfield (University of Reading).

This piece originally appeared on the Archaeology Department blog (http://blogs.exeter.ac.uk/archaeology/2016/07/05/experimental-archaeology-neanderthal-spear-technology/)

 

Reflections on the Digital Humanities 2016 conference at Krakow

This article was originally posted on the Digital Humanities at Exeter blog and is reproduced with kind permission.

Copyright Chetwode Ram Associates LTD 2015. No publication without the correct license. Call 00441637830225 to check or apply. All unlicensed publication will be charged.

Digitising using the conservation cradle in the Special Collections

Hannah Petrie reflects on her time spent at the Digital Humanities 2016 conference at Krakow in Poland.

This was my first time attending the annual Digital Humanities conference, and it’s certainly the biggest conference I’ve ever attended. We were told that at final count, there were 902 delegates from 45 different countries (to put it in perspective, the Digital Humanities congress that I attended in Sheffield in 2014 had 100 delegates). I went along with four of my colleagues from our Digital Humanities team in Exeter and one PhD student.

The main lecture theatre that we congregated in for the plenaries was impressively huge, and must have seated around 1200 people. The scale of the conference was reflected by the number of parallel sessions on offer. Eleven sessions ran concurrently throughout most of the conference, meaning that each one involved a difficult decision. Checking Storify feeds of tweet highlights from the conference, I felt like there was at least another conference-worth of additional material. I sometimes wanted to attend two or three sessions that were running at the same time, and wished that some of the sessions could have been recorded so that we could listen to the ones we missed afterwards.

Workshops
As well as the conference, my colleagues and I had also registered for a number of workshops, which took place in the two days before the conference began. The workshops I chose gave me an introduction to using the tools GAMS and Cirilo to deposit and archive research documents; using Voyant Tools for text analysis, so that you can instantly generate wordclouds and other useful tools to tell you about word use in your corpus; and how to create a simulation using R, but also how to think through the scenario effectively before you even begin coding. It was a lot to take in but was also a good opportunity to meet people in smaller groups.

Conference
For the main conference, I ended up going to a lot of the talks on analysing and using new media, and also dipping into the stylometry, scholarly editions and mapping tracks. Some of the discussions and visualisations I saw afterwards on Twitter looked fascinating too, with the diversity panels in particular generating a lot of interest. There was so much on offer that you always had to miss out on something, but between us, our team tried to make sure that we went to as many different parallel sessions as possible.

I was presenting a short paper with my colleague Charlotte Tupman on the Thursday [abstract], so on the Wednesday afternoon before the poster session, we found a vacant lecture theatre and took some time to go over our presentation and to make sure that our slides worked. It was a useful precaution, because we found that our live demo didn’t look quite right on the big screen because of the aspect ratio, so we were able to record a screencast instead.

Our poster
My colleague Graham Fereday had a poster accepted on the subject of 3D scanning for preservation [abstract], and was presenting at the poster slam. The poster was a joint effort between Graham and our colleagues Mick Mullins, Rich Webb and Gary Stringer. At the slam, everyone had 4 minutes maximum to present their posters to the group. Again, this was on a huge scale, with 4 simultaneous sessions, each with around 20 presenters – and these were just the people who had opted to present. At the reception later, posters were roughly organised by subject into 26 groups. We had the opportunity to wander round each stall and talk to the creators. It was quite an efficient way to make connections with people who had similar research interests to you. People came to speak to Graham about 3D scanning and techniques and we made links that may not otherwise have been formed.

Our presentation
Our presentation went off without a hitch on Thursday, and there was a much larger audience than I thought we might have. People seemed attentive and several tweeted about our paper.

We had some very useful feedback and discussions as a result of delivering the paper, and I discovered that presenting wasn’t as daunting as I’d been worried about: everyone was very friendly and encouraging.

Finishing up
Claire Warwick’s keynote talk on digital information design marked the closing ceremony and gave us a lot of food for thought. She posited the library as a physical interface for accessing information and asked what this might mean for our access of digital information, which doesn’t have a physical presence in the same way. She illustrated how we navigate physical resources, such as being able to remember the position on the page of a particular sentence, or being able to walk back to the shelf on which you found a particular book, simply don’t apply for digital. The conclusion was that we should accept that digital is different and we should try to make it work in its own way.

I found it interesting to hear that many students much preferred working in the library to anywhere else, even if they brought their own device and weren’t using any of the physical resources from the library, because it was the space that they associated with work and that they felt was important.

It was announced at the closing ceremony that DH 2017 would be held in Montreal, Canada. The news about the accessibility of next year’s conference was welcomed enthusiastically, and the promise of a virtual stream is also a step in the right direction for such a large conference. We had better get practising our French too, as it will be bilingual.

Next year, I’d like to see the conference embrace the digital even more, with a mobile-friendly programme online, the ability to create a personalised schedule, and a list of all conference attendees and their institutions, so you could look up people’s contact information after you meet them.

At the banquet on the final night, I was presented with my ADHO bursary award along with all of the other winners. There seemed to be a lot of us and it’s hoped there will be even more next year. In the final networking opportunity of the conference, we sat next to delegates from Finland, Germany and The Netherlands.

Aside from the bustle of the conference, we also got to explore the city in our free time. We took a walk down by the river one evening and discovered the statue of the dragon near the castle, which surprised us by breathing real fire when we walked by. I managed to find Massolit Bookshop, which a friend had described to me as his favourite bookshop in Europe. We even had the chance to explore the famous salt mines at Wieliczka on the day we arrived. On the last evening we waited by St. Mary’s Basilica tower in central square for the trumpeter who appears there every hour on the hour, day and night. According to local legend, the trumpet call ends abruptly as a tribute the famous trumpeter who was shot in the throat with an arrow in the 13th-century, when sounding the alarm before the Mongol attack on the city. Despite our scepticism the trumpeter showed up right on time, and played the Hejnał Mariacki at each of the 4 tower windows. And then it was time to say goodbye to Kraków and begin our journey back home.


Hannah Petrie works in Digital Humanities Archives and Documentation in the College’s Digital Humanities Team. Her expertise includes working with archived data, documenting research projects on the web, and text encoding with TEI. She is currently contributing to an XQuery- and XSLT-based text archive system as part of an AHRC research project. She was awarded an ADHO early career bursary, which enabled her to attend this conference. She attended this conference along with five of her colleagues from Exeter: Gary Stringer, Charlotte Tupman, Graham Fereday and Rich Holding from the Digital Humanities team, and PhD student Richard Graham.

Rock/Body: A new research network

Rock Body

Photo courtesy of Isabel Pina Ferreira and Lizzy Burt

Dr João Florêncio explores questions raised as part of Rock/Body, an AHRC-funded project for which he is the Principal Investigator.

If asked about the similarities and possible continuities between the geologic world and the human body, most people will probably shrug and leave it at that, probably with a sense of disbelief on the value of the question just thrown at them: what would such disparate realms have in common? Why would one be interested in thinking together rocks—perceived as hard, static, dead, ever-lasting—and human bodies—seen as living, fleshy, organic, perishable, and capable of affects?

However, when paid closer look, geologic and human bodies begin to appear somewhat porous to one another. Think about calcium, for instance. Produced by the stars, it entered the composition of rocky planets like the Earth, where it became constituent part of sedimentary rocks. However, calcium is also very soluble in water and thus makes the jump into the animal food chain where it becomes a crucial element for the mineralisation of teeth and bones as well as some cellular processes. Without calcium—arriving from the stars to the rocks to the water to the food you eat–you wouldn’t be able to stand, let alone dare to walk.

Besides life’s dependence on minerals, geologic and human bodies have also been brought closer together thanks to two other events of a totally different kind (recent ones, if we consider them in relation to the wider history of the Earth). Those events—industrialisation and capitalism—unfolded through the exploitation, on the one hand, of geological resources such as coal and, on the other, human resources in the form of labour time. It was coal that powered James Watt’s steam engine; and it was human labour that extracted the coal to feed the industrial revolution. The burning out of rocks and bodies were essential for the accumulation of capital. And they keep on being so even today when our smartphones, tablets, and “cloud computing” interfaces—so cleanly conceived and designed they appear eons away from the smog and black lung of the industrial revolution—are still dependent on the mining of rare metals mostly taking place in developing countries and which are necessary to support the circuit boards, servers, and communication cables upon which our fetishised gadgets depend. Further, it is also often developing countries that are paid to import the e-waste produced when our smart machines reach their planned obsolescence and dispose of it. What do these stories tell about different kinds of human bodies and their relationships with metal and other geological resources at a time when one could be forgiven for thinking the world has freed itself from matter and become primarily quantified and understood in terms of data and Mbps (Megabytes per second)?

SingleRock_Colour_1000px

Image courtesy of Isabel Pina Ferreira and Lizzy Burt

As such, if we consider the porosity of the geologic and the human to one another, highlighted by millions of years of circulation and storage of minerals between rocks and living bodies and back again; and if we accept that both rocks and human bodies have a shared history of exploitation under capitalism, in what ways can these overlaps—these blurry areas where rock becomes (human) body becomes rock—open new pathways for collaborative research projects across disciplinary borders that have divided modern academia between sciences, humanities, and arts? What kinds of questions can a focus on these areas of ontological fuzziness bring about if the geologic and the human appear to no longer hold clearly defined boundaries separating the one from the other? And what can it do for the ways in which we make sense of ourselves and our place in the world at a time when the planet is changing so rapidly, environmentally, socially, politically?

In order to start probing these questions, Lancaster University’s Professor Nigel Clark and I have brought together a diverse group of scientists, humanities scholars, and artists under Rock/Body, an AHRC-funded research networking project. Departing from the belief that the scope and implications of the issues at hand cannot be safely contained within the traditional boundaries of a single discipline—or of various disciplines working without permeability to one another—the participants in the network have been meeting since April for a series of three research seminars where each researcher has been contributing their own thoughts on the interfacings of the geologic with the human body.

Organised around three sub-themes—Flesh/Minerality, Extraction/Exhaustion, and Time/Duration—the seminars bring together artists, curators, social scientists, earth scientists, and humanities scholars in order to start enacting much-needed cross-disciplinary dialogues and, from there, sketch future research partnerships.

The project will culminate at Exeter in September with an exhibition of artworks by participating artists and the presentations of a new site-specific performance piece conceived in response to the seminar discussions and the Exeter landscape.


FAT_6918_JoaoFlorencioDr Joao Florencio is a Lecturer in History of Modern and Contemporary Art and Visual Culture. He holds a BA from the Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Portugal, an MA with Distinction from the University of Greenwich, and a PhD from Goldsmiths, University of London.

An A-Z of reasons to do a POST fellowship

Sarah Foxen’s piece originally appeared on the NEWBROGUESANDBLISTERS Blog and is reposted with permission.

AZ

Last year I did a POST fellowship. It was one of the best things I’ve ever done. Applications are now open for the next round of fellowships and I cannot recommend it highly enough; here is an A – Z of reasons why.

Assertiveness
You engage with all sorts of people during your fellowship; there’s no hiding in the corner. You find your voice and your assertiveness develops.

Balance
You see academic research from beyond the academy and that is really useful. Inside the academy, you only see half of the story. Engaging with research outside the institution balances your view of its place and function in our world.

Collaboration
A PhD can be quite a lonely experience. However, during your fellowship you (learn to) work collaboratively; with colleagues, fellows and others that you engage with.

Drive
You have a clearly defined task on your placement and a clearly defined goal. You also have a relatively short time to do it in. You need to work to a plan and you need to go for it. In so doing, you develop – and work with – a drive to achieve.

Expertise
You’ve been developing expertise in a particular field for some years now. Your placement puts you in contexts where you get to call upon the expertise you’ve worked so hard to develop.

Friends
You meet really nice, interesting, dynamic people, some of whom will become friends.

Giving
It’s not just about what you can get by doing a fellowship, but also what you can give. As a funded PhD student, several funding bodies have probably invested in your development over the years. By doing a fellowship and using those skills, you get to give back.

Helping
You will have developed a lot of skills and knowledge over the years. These may be unique to you. On your placement you can use your knowledge and skills to help colleagues and fellows.

Inspiration
In a completely different environment, meeting new people, going new places, doing new things, making new connections, inspiration strikes.

Job prospects
A fellowship looks great on your CV and provides you with fantastic experiences to recall in cover letters and interviews.

Knowledge
On your fellowship you research a topic in depth. In so doing, you gain a lot of knowledge in that area.

Learning
PhD students love to learn, but PhDs have us focusing our learning. Doing a fellowship, you learn lots of different things through the things you do and the people you meet. Some of the things you learn are really valuable and worth sharing.

Momentum
If a PhD is a marathon, then a fellowship is a 10k race. The pace is faster. You’ve only got three months to turn it around, and that means you’ve got to keep moving, which is really welcome when you’ve been creeping along at a snail’s pace with the PhD.

Network
During your fellowship, you engage with all sorts of different people; some you meet just once, others you liaise with repeatedly. They introduce you to others. Connecting with them on social media, you connect to others who are connected to them. You grow a fantastic network.

Opportunities
Opportunities come at you from left, right and centre. You will also be in a position to make your own opportunities. You must take hold of those opportunities and go for it.

Purpose
Sometimes we are disheartened by the thought that our esoteric thesis will be read by just a handful of people and is unlikely to change the world. The work you produce on your fellowship has purpose. It is widely read. It is useful. It feeds into parliamentary and policy debate. It is impactful.

Questioning
On your fellowship you scrutinise all kinds of documents and evidence. You become much more discerning and your default becomes to question things.

Reflection
When you’re in a different context, you see yourself from a different perspective. Your fellowship opens up a space for you to reflect on where you’re at and where you want to go next.

Space
Your fellowship gives you space and distance from your own research. It allows you to think about it differently and see it from a different perspective. When you return to it you are refreshed with new ideas of how to approach it.

Tales
Based in Westminster, interacting with all sorts of fascinating people, carrying out research of contemporary societal importance, you come away with great stories woven into your life tapestry.

Understanding
Working in Westminster, you gain a lot of understanding into how Parliament and Government work and how they interact with wider society.

Vision
Your fellowship allows you to see how academic research is made meaningful in the wider world. You see it through the eyes of parliamentarians, policy makers, charities, industry, journalists and others. You see it in a whole new light and that changes the way you do research.

Writing
During your fellowship, you write in a way you probably haven’t written before; you write about complicated things in a concise and accessible way. You learn a whole new useful way of writing.

eXpectation
The calibre of people you mix with on your fellowship is pretty high. People work hard, have high expectations and get things done. Being in that environment, those things rub off. You grow into that kind of a professional, and come away with those kinds of expectations.

Yolo
The idea of doing a fellowship might feel overwhelming: ‘I could never do that,’ you think. Well, you can. Your colleagues are supportive and helpful, and you will get there. Be brave, go for it, YOLO.

Zeal
The POST team and fellows are dynamic, motivated, quick, engaged, and on the ball. It’s an energetic and inspiring environment and it’s contagious.


Author’s Bio

Sarah Foxen is a postgraduate researcher in French Linguistics. Her research investigates the interactions between language and identity in the Franco-Belgian borderland. She is also interested in trends and developments in academia, and blogs about researcher skills, research and impact from the perspective of a junior academic.

The Medieval Somme: forgotten battle that was the bloodiest fought on British soil

This article originally appeared on The Conversation. It was written by James Clark, Professor of Medieval History.

Richard Caton Woodville’s The Battle of Towton.

A Battle of the Somme on British soil? It happened on Palm Sunday, 1461: a day of fierce fighting in the mud that felled a generation, leaving a longer litany of the dead than any other engagement in the islands’ history – reputed in some contemporary reports to be between 19,000 – the same number killed or missing in France on July 1 1916 – and a staggering 38,000.

The battle of Towton, fought near a tiny village standing on the old road between Leeds and York, on the brink of the North York Moors, is far less known than many other medieval clashes such as Hastings or Bosworth. Many will never have heard of it.

But here, in a blizzard on an icy cold March 29 1461, the forces of the warring factions of Lancaster and York met in a planned pitched battle that soon descended into a mayhem known as the Bloody Meadow. It ran into dusk, and through the fields and byways far from the battlefield. To the few on either side that carried their weapon to the day’s end, the result was by no means clear. But York in fact prevailed and within a month (almost to the day), the towering figure of Duke Edward, who stood nearly six-feet-five-inches tall, had reached London and seized the English crown as Edward IV. The Lancastrian king, Henry VI, fled into exile.

Victor: the Yorkist Edward IV. The National Portrait Gallery

Towton was not merely a bloody moment in military history. It was also a turning-point in the long struggle for the throne between these two dynasties whose rivalry has provided – since the 16th century – a compelling overture to the grand opera of the Tudor legend, from Shakespeare to the White Queen. But this summer, as national attention focuses on the 100th anniversary of The Battle of the Somme, we might also take the opportunity to recall a day in our history when total war tore up a landscape that was much closer to home.

An English Doomsday

First, the historian’s caveats. While we know a remarkable amount about this bloody day in Yorkshire more than 550 years ago, we do not have the benefits granted to historians of World War I. Towton left behind no battle plans, memoranda, maps, aerial photographs, nor – above all other in value – first-hand accounts of those who were there. We cannot be certain of the size of the forces on either side, nor of the numbers of their dead.

A death toll of 28,000 was reported as early as April 1461 in one of the circulating newssheets that were not uncommon in the 15th century – and was taken up by a number of the chroniclers writing in the months and years following. This was soon scaled up to nearly 40,000 – about 1% of England’s entire male population – by others, a figure which also came to be cemented in the accounts of some chroniclers.

This shift points to the absence of any authoritative recollection of the battle – but almost certainly the numbers were larger than were usually seen, even in the period’s biggest clashes. Recently, historians have curbed the claims but the latest estimate suggests that 40,000 men took to the field, and that casualties may have been closer to 10,000.

Lethal: an armour-piercing bodkin arrow, as used at Towton. by Boneshaker

But as with the Somme, it is not just the roll-call, or death-toll, that matters, but also the scar which the battle cut across the collective psychology. Towton became a byword for the horrors of the battlefield. Just as July 1 1916 has become the template for the cultural representation of the 1914-18 war, so Towton pressed itself into the popular image of war in the 15th and 16th centuries.

When Sir Thomas Malory re-imagined King Arthur for the rising generation of literate layfolk at the beginning of the Tudor age, it was at Towton – or at least a battlefield very much like it – that he set the final fight-to-the-death between Arthur and Mordred (Morte d’Arthur, Book XXI, Chapter 4). Writing less than ten years after the Yorkist victory, Malory’s Arthurian battleground raged, like Towton, from first light until evening, and laid waste a generation:

… and thus they fought all the long day, and never stinted till the noble knights were laid to the cold earth and ever they fought still till it was near night, and by that time there was there an hundred thousand laid dead upon the ground.

Lions and lambs

In his history plays, Shakespeare also presents Towton as an expression of all the terrible pain of the years of struggle that lasted over a century, from Richard II to Henry VIII. He describes it in Henry VI, Part 3, Act 2, Scene 5:

O piteous spectacle! O bloody times! While lions war and battle for their dens, poor harmless lambs abide their enmity. Weep, wretched man, I’ll aid thee tear for tear.

Both the Somme and Towton saw a generation fall. But while it was a young, volunteer army of “Pals” that was annihilated in 1916, osteo-analysis suggests that Towton was fought by grizzled older veterans. But in the small society of the 15th century, this was no less of a demographic shock. Most would have protected and provided for households. Their loss on such a scale would have been devastating for communities. And the slaughter went on and on. The Lancastrians were not only defeated, they were hunted down with a determination to see them, if not wiped out, then diminished to the point of no return.

Battle of Towton: initial deployment. by Jappalang, CC BY-SA

For its time, this was also warfare on an unprecedented scale. There was no be no surrender, no prisoners. The armies were strafed with vast volleys of arrows, and new and, in a certain sense, industrial technologies were deployed, just as they were at the Somme. Recent archaeology confirmed the presence of handguns on the battlefield, evidently devastating if not quite in the same league as the German’s Maschinengewehr 08 in 1916.

These firearm fragments are among the earliest known to have been in used in northern European warfare and perhaps the very first witnessed in England. Primitive in their casting, they presented as great a threat to the man that fired them as to their target. Surely these new arrivals would have added considerably to the horror.

Fragments of the past

Towton is a rare example in England of a site largely spared from major development, and vital clues to its violent past remain. In the past 20 years, archaeological excavations have not only extended our understanding of the events of that day but of medieval English society in general.

The same is true of the Somme. That battlefield has a global significance as a place of commemoration and reconciliation, especially as Word War I passes out of even secondhand memory. But it also has significance as a site for “live” research. Its ploughed fields and pastures are still offering up new discoveries which likewise can carry us back not only to the last moments of those lost regiments but also to the lost world they left behind them, of Late Victorian and Edwardian Britain.

It is essential that these battlefields continue to hold our attention. For not only do they deepen our understanding of the experience and mechanics of war, they can also broaden our understanding of the societies from which such terrible conflict springs.

Official World War I memorial rituals could create a generation uncritical of the conflict

This article first appeared on The Conversation. It was written by Catriona Pennell (Senior Lecturer in History, University of Exeter) and Mark Sheehan (Senior Lecturer, School of Education, Victoria University of Wellington)

French and British school children during a Somme Memorial in Thiepval. Yui Mok/PA wire

As commemorations to mark the centenary of the Battle of Somme begin, its clear that World War I retains a lingering and vivid presence in the countries which fought in it. But the unfolding centenary anniversaries can also be understood as a moment of heightened anxiety about the future of the way the war is remembered.

As we move further away from the original event itself, much state-sponsored centenary activity in the UK, Australia and New Zealand has actively targeted young people – singling them out as the “next generation”, charged with carrying the memory of what happened on the battlefield forward.


Children take part in a Somme memorial at Manchester Cathedral. Christopher Furlong/PA Wire

In these countries, the memory of World War I has been sanctified to such an extent that other perspectives beyond a sense of respect for those who were directly affected by the conflict is often overlooked.

In the UK, young people are taking centre stage in all the major government-funded commemorative activities, the cornerstone of which is the £5.3m Centenary Battlefield Tours Programme, which aims to take 12,000 secondary state school pupils from England to the memorials on the western front between 2014 and 2019 as part of a national education initiative.

Revered status

Such investment, in a time of economic austerity, requires scrutiny, particularly regarding what ideas about the conflict are emphasised and at the expense of which alternatives. For example, whether children are being asked to reflect on civilians, pacifists or survivors – rather than solely the military dead – or to explore Britain’s uncomfortable relationship to its imperial past.

One secondary school pupil, who took part in a trip to World War I battlefields in spring 2015, told us how she might respond to a member of her coach party who felt remembering the war glorified conflict. She said:

I just really disagree with that viewpoint … it’s like walking into a church and you know saying that you love the devil and you hate God and everything. It’s not appropriate … the tour was to remember and to learn about that you know not many people there are going to put their hands up and agree with you because that’s not the purpose of going.

Much of the UK government’s commemorative activities involving young people are semi-religious, reverential and ritualistic. This risks closing down the opportunity for students to question the purpose of the war, to explore notions of the war’s futility in the light of the outbreak of the World War II, or to consider which narratives of the war are being commemorated at the expense of others.

Anzac identity

In Australia and New Zealand, war remembrance is closely aligned with an Anzac identity. Purported to have emerged at Gallipoli in 1915, this ideal is framed around so-called “common values” of “mateship, courage, equality, self-sacrifice, duty and loyalty”. It is central to museum education programmes that continue to attract thousands of school visitors.

At this year’s Anzac Day dawn service at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, director Brendan Nelson addressed “young Australians” directly: “Your search for belonging, meaning and values for the world you want – ends here.”

Australia’s and New Zealand’s commemorative activities also share many of the core elements of British commemoration, for example the exhortation of Laurence Binyon’s ode “we will remember them” is used at Anzac Day dawn services. At the heart of all three national cultures of remembrance is a sense of unquestioning reverence for those who served.


Anzac Day in Sydney. European Press Association

In New Zealand, all schools participated in the Ministry of Education’s Fields of Remembrance project. This saw 80,000 white crosses with the names of local service personal who had died overseas hand delivered to schools and laid in the school grounds, where along with poppies and posters they became the focus of war commemorations.

In Australia, pride has been used to encourage young people to connect with their country’s World War I history. Teenage duo The Berrys won the 2016 ACT Premier’s Anzac Spirit Prize with Proud, a song that thanks a dying Australian soldier and his mates for “a legend to be proud of”.

Amid these official celebrations, there appears to be little space for different perspectives on war remembrance in the UK, Australia and New Zealand that go beyond pride and reverence of the armed forces, are inclusive of difference and allow young people to think critically about the significance of World War I. But if we are serious about the memories of the conflict surviving in all their diversity, we need to equip and encourage young people to engage critically as well as emotionally with this cataclysmic event, and with what it might say to us in the 21st century.

The authors would like to thank to Christina Spittel, lecturer in the school of humanities and social sciences, University of New South Wales, Canberra for help with the Australian examples.

7 ½ Reasons Why You Should Visit the Cartoon Museum before 24 July 2016

As part of my current AHRC project Reframing the Graphic Novel I have curated an exhibition with the Cartoon Museum in London called The Great British Graphic Novel. It tells the story of the graphic novel in the UK since the eighteenth century, with an emphasis on the last 40 years. There are all kinds of displays: cabinets of books, video interviews, and old comics, but the main attraction is original art. Over 125 pages of original art. The exhibition runs until 24 July, so you have roughly a month left to visit – and here are 7 ½ reasons why you should:

1. … to see a giant tube map of UK graphic novels

graphic_novel_tubemap

(c) Cartoon Museum 2016(c) Cartoon Museum 2016

How could we show the history of graphic novels – and all the different types of graphic novel – and provide visitors with a way of navigating the different parts of the exhibition? We decided to visualise the graphic novels on display as stations on a map of the London Underground, where the lines represent the exhibition’s sections. The whole idea was brought to life as a spectacular image drawn by veteran underground comix artist Hunt Emerson. As you can see, he’s added characters and symbols from the graphic novels themselves. And if you think it looks good on a computer screen, the first thing that greets you when you walk into the main gallery is a giant version of Emerson’s map!

2. … to attend an amazing talk

We’ve had some great events tied in with the exhibition. Since we opened:

  • Bryan and Mary M. Talbot discussed their new graphic biography The Red Virgin and the Vision of Utopia, about the nineteenth-century feminist and revolutionary Louise Michel
  • Three editors from major UK companies shared their experiences and offered advice on getting your graphic novel published
  • We’ve been showcasing writers and artists from the Laydeez Do Comics collective

And there’s more to come:

  • Have you heard of graphic medicine but want to learn more? Come to the event on 13th July!
  • Woodrow Phoenix has been doing page-turnings of his graphic novel She Lives! (see below) and there are more page-turnings coming up
  • You can also catch Monica Walker’s Spotlight Talks focusing on key works in the exhibition!

3. … because some of the art on display is HUGE

Size matters, right? Well, the multimedia art of Dave McKean is enormous and spectacular. One of the graphic novels McKean famously worked on was The Sandman, written by Neil Gaiman. McKean’s covers gave the series a distinct look that set it apart from other comics on the rack and in the exhibition you can see that McKean didn’t just draw the covers, he constructed them as large-scale, three-dimensional art objects that absorbed mementoes and found objects.

artondisplay

Another gigantic exhibit in the show is Woodrow Phoenix’s She Lives! This is a one-off graphic novel. We’re displaying the book that Phoenix made by hand because there is no published version. Not many people would have room in their homes for it! There is only one copy in the world and it’s on show in The Great British Graphic Novel.

luckystrike

And while you can’t turn the pages yourself, you can (a) come to one of the page-turnings and have Woodrow Phoenix take you through the story himself, or (b) the pages can be viewed on the video screen next to the book.

 4. …because you never knew graphic novels went back that far

My research is about the history of graphic novels and the opening section of the exhibition shows how comics have grown in length, been published as books, and been read by adults (all things associated with the graphic novel format) over the last 300 years. To reflect the influence of engraver William Hogarth on later artists, the exhibition starts with some prints from Hogarth’s sequence of images A Harlot’s Progress (1732). Contemporary creators are not only influenced by the history of illustration, they appropriate and rework artistic traditions, and Eddie Campbell’s Bacchus is a great example of this. In the 1980s and 1990s Campbell depicted the present-day exploits of Bacchus, the Greek god of wine and revelry, and in one scene (shown in the exhibition) Bacchus is chased by Mr. Dry (a character based on Prohibition-era political cartoons) through a mini-history of alcohol-related paintings, starting with Hogarth’s Beer Street (1751).

5. …to learn how graphic novels get put together

One of the pleasures of curating the exhibition was illuminating how the country’s leading artists go about producing their graphic novels. Some of the draft work on show includes character designs and page layouts (sketches that outline where panels will go on a page and what goes in each one). Visitors can see the lengths Hunt Emerson went to in his adaptation of Inferno, drawing his own map of the underworld to help him recreate the events in Dante’s original. You can also see how artists like Katie Green work with computers as well as pencils and ink. All of this, we hope, will inspire visitors old and young to pick up different tools and have a go at making comics for themselves!

6. …to see the classics of the future before they’re even published

At the end of the exhibition we’ve spotlighted three works by Kate Charlesworth, Asia Alfasi, and Jade Sarson which are still in progress but are shaping up to be classics of the future. The work of Alfasi and Sarson demonstrates the influence of Japanese comics on British graphic novelists (elsewhere in the exhibition, the art from the Manga Shakespeare series is another example of this). Jade Sarson’s book For the Love of God, Marie! is forthcoming as I write this but it will be published by the time The Great British Graphic Novel closes.

7. …to marvel at page after page of your old favourites

It’s edifying to spend years putting an exhibition like this together and for people to enjoy it. We haven’t been able to show art from every British graphic novel ever published, but what we’ve included has received some very positive reviews. If you’re already a passionate reader of graphic novels and are expecting to see your personal favourites, the chances are you won’t be disappointed. There’s art on show from Posy Simmonds’s Gemma Bovery and Tamara Drewe, The Sandman by Neil Gaiman and various artists, Alan Martin and Jamie Hewlett’s Tank Girl, Bryan Talbot’s Alice in Sunderland, and Grant Morrison and Dave McKean’s Arkham Asylum. Alan Moore is one of the most written-about comics writers of all time and we have pages of art from five of his graphic novels: From Hell (art by Eddie Campbell), Watchmen (Dave Gibbons), V for Vendetta (David Lloyd), A Small Killing (Oscar Zarate) and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Kev O’Neill).

watchmen

(c) DC Comics Inc. 1986

7 ½.…because there’s lots to do when you (eventually) finish looking round the exhibition

The Cartoon Museum is one street down from the British Museum and located perfectly to explore Bloomsbury, or to do some shopping on Oxford Street, or to see a show in the West End. So although you’ll obviously come to look at the comics, you won’t have any difficulty finding other things to do when the Museum closes …


Dr Paul Williams is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of English in the College of Humanities at the University of Exeter. He is currently researching how comics became graphic novels in the long 1970s. This project is funded by an AHRC Early Career Research Fellowship (2014-16) and you can read more about it on his blog.

Conference Season

Summer means conference season in academia. From casual graduate symposia popping up across campuses, to the vast annual international gatherings of scholars in one dedicated field, there will be the congregation of academic minds. Whilst undergraduate marking looms like an unmovable mountain in May, come June and July academics will be packing suitcases and embarking on trains across the country, and indeed airplanes around the world. It’s a romantic image to think on such an international scale. But before that, there has been the search, which for most academics today begins online, alone.

Finding a conference can be a challenge, especially when you are starting out in academia. There are just so many possibilities out there. Since beginning my PhD I have attended and presented at some great conferences and some truly dire ones. I have spoken in a room to six people, and an auditorium of 200. There is a really great article by Cornelia Oefelein that details different kinds of conferences, which can be found here.

Over time, I have learnt that where and how you search, changes the kinds of conferences that you will find. Below, I detail my favourite places to look for conferences and what they are especially useful for, alongside the disadvantages. As a humanities scholar these are biased towards the arts and humanities disciplines. I also maintain that perhaps the best place to find out about conferences is by talking to friends and colleagues.

  • Online Conference Database

Advantages: Of the numerous sites out there, H-Nets Academic Annoucements is my favourite conference database. It offers a convenient way to narrowing down the vast number of conferences out there. Tick boxes and filters mean that you can choose to search for conferences with “Call for Papers” that are still open (i.e. you will be able to present) or for conferences that are open for registration. You can search by location, subject or keyword terms. Another good place to look if you are in English Studies is the University of Pennsylvania’s CFP database. It isn’t as beautiful as H-Net but it does have a load of conferences for literature / Digital Humanities scholars.

Disadvantages: Cast too wide a wide net, and you’ll be inundated with conferences and feel overwhelmed.

  • Eventbrite

Advantages: If you are looking for a one-day conference (or symposia as it is sometimes called) Eventbrite is a great place to start. Events listed here are often organised by groups of people at one institution, so it can be a really easy way of getting involved in otherwise closed circles. I recently attended a graduate conference at UCL on the theme of “Dissidence” via Eventbrite. People attended this particular event from all across the U.K, testament to the potential reach of this platform. These events have the benefit of being public too, meaning that you might get a wider and more diverse audience for your paper = win!

Disadvantages: The events here only usually last for a day, meaning that you miss out on the potential to make stronger connections over a few days.

  • Twitter

Advantages: Some of the best conferences I have been to have been recommended by colleagues on Twitter who’ve spotted a CFP elsewhere. Twitter allows you to expand the power of personal recommendation to a wider circle of peers. “Following” people in your field, and looking at the conferences which they are organising / attending / tweeting about is a great way to find places to get involved.

Disadvantages: You need to be able to discern between a meaningful recommendation and an automated plug. Like the conference databases, there is an over-abundance of information on Twitter.

  • Institutions / Organizations

Advantages: The biggest conferences are hosted by large organisations. Following these centres via membership, mailing lists, RSS feeds, or social media provides an excellent way to stay in the loop in regard to conferences. These large events pull a greater number of colleagues, have world-leading experts and tend to have the largest catering budget!

Disadvantages: They can be competitive to present at and so applying for these is more likely to result in rejection. Try not to be disheartened though, as sometimes they also result in success and an excellent chance to disseminate your ideas.

Author’s Bio – Zoe Bulaitis

Zoe Bulaitis is an English Literature PhD Student at the University of Exeter, UK where she also holds a BA and MA in English with specialism in Criticism and Theory. Zoe’s thesis focuses on the changing value of the humanities in higher education. You can find out more about her latest projects at www.zoebulaitis.com or follow her on Twitter @zoebulaitis

How the Battle of the Bastards squares with medieval history

This article originally appeared on The Conversation. The post was written by James Clark, Professor of Medieval History. This article contains spoilers for Game of Thrones season six, episode nine.

A 12-foot giant, his unhuman features oddly familiar (almost homely, after two screen decades colonised by combat-ready orcs) wheels around a wintry courtyard, wondering at the thicket of arrow shafts now wound around his torso. He stops, sways somewhat, and falls, dead. So Wun Wun the Wilding met his doom in The Battle of the Bastards, the penultimate episode of this season of Game of Thrones.

One casualty which, with countless others in the scenes before and after, might have a claim to a place in history, apparently. “The most fully realised medieval battle we’ve ever seen on the small screen (if not the big one too)”, is the breathless verdict from The Independent.

As a full-time historian of the other Middle Ages – Europe’s, every bit as feuding and physical as the Seven Kingdoms but with better weather – I am struck by the irony that Martin’s mock-medieval world might now be seen to set the bar for authenticity. There’s no doubt that for much of screen’s first century, medieval was the Cinderella era: overlooked, patronised and pressed into service for clumsy stage-adaptations, musical comedy and children. But over the past two decades – almost from the moment that Marsellus fired the line in Pulp Fiction (1994) – we have been “getting medieval” more and more.

Medieval millennium

Any connection between Braveheart (1995) and recorded history may have been purely coincidental, but its representation of the scale and scramble of combat at the turn of the 13th century set a new standard, pushing even Kenneth Branagh’s earnest Henry V (1989) closer to the Panavison pantomime of Laurence Olivier’s film (1944). Branagh had at least toned down the hues of his happy breed from the bold – indeed, freshly laundered – primary colours of Sir Laurence’s light brigade, but his men-at-arms still jabbed at each other with the circumspection of the stage-fighters while noble knights strutted and preened.

Of course, at times it threatened to be a false dawn: First Knight (1995) and A Knight’s Tale (2001) are undeniable obstacles in making the case for a new realism. But new epics have extended the territory taken in Mel Gibson’s first rebel assault.

Now already a decade old, Kingdom of Heaven (2005) achieved a level of accuracy without reducing the cinematic to the documentary. For the first time, the scene and size of the opposing forces were not compromised by either budget or technological limitations. The audience is led to gates of the Holy City as it would have appeared to the Crusaders. The armies’ subsequent encounter with one another is captured with the same vivid colour and fear that the contemporary chroniclers conjure them, catching especially the crazy spectacle of Christian liturgical performance – crucifixes, chanting priests – on the Middle Eastern plain. And descriptive details were not lost, particularly in the contentious arena of Crusader kit, now a hobbyists’ domain into which only the brave production designer – and braver historian – strays.

Meanwhile, Peter Jackson painted energetically with his medieval palate in the Lords of the Rings trilogy, not, of course, pointing us to a place or time but certainly providing a superior visual vocabulary for the experience of combat in a pre-industrial age.

Back to basics

So, has Game of Thrones bettered this?

There are certainly some satisfyingly authentic twists and turns woven around The Battle of the Bastards. The most significant casualties occur away from the melee of the pitched battle in one of a number of routs (medieval battles always ended with a ragged rout, not a decisive bloodbath). And the principal actors in the drama do not readily present themselves for a tidy dispatch. The mounted forces of Westeros are rarely decisive and even fighters of the highest status do not see out the day in the saddle.

Also accurate are the individual acts of near-bestial violence which occur, are witnessed and go on to define the significance of battle. The deliberate breaking of Ramsey’s face by Jon Snow is a point-of-entry into a central but still under-researched dimension of medieval conflict: ritual violence, such as the systematic, obscene dismemberment of the dead and dying English by their Welsh enemies during the Glyn Dwr wars.

Before the fall. ©2016 Home Box Office, Inc.

Yet I suspect that these are not the snapshots that have won the superlatives. No doubt it is the standout features of the battle scenes: their scale, the weaponry and the “reality” of wounding in real time that have held most attention. And these threaten to turn us again in the direction of that Ur-Middle Ages which we had every reason to hope we had left for good.

Because medieval armies were always smaller than was claimed, far smaller than we see here. Weaponry was not fixed in time, but – more like the Western Front in 1917 than you might imagine – a fluid domain of fast-developing technology. It is time that directors gave space to firearms, which were the firsthand experience of any fighting man from the final quarter of the 15th century. They must also shed their conviction that “medieval” means hand-to-hand combat. It was sustained arrow-fire that felled armies, not swordplay, nor fisticuffs.

Life on the medieval battle path also meant poor health, rapid ageing and no personal grooming. So we are also overdue sight of a medieval fighting force as it might actually have arrived on the field: neither sporting sexy hairstyles, nor match-fit for action. They of course arrived after months of marching, if they arrived at all: dysentery passed through campaigning forces with fatal routine. They faced their foe in a youth that would have felt more like middle age to you and me.

And in the middle of this Ur-medieval battlefield there is a 12-foot giant, just to confirm that this not medieval Europe, by any means.